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Cultural psychology is the study of how culture reflects and shapes the psychological processes of a given culture’s members. The main idea in cultural psychology is that the human mind and culture are inseparable. People are shaped by their culture, and culture is shaped by their psyche. Cultural psychology is therefore the study of the way cultural traditions and social practices regulate, express and transform the human psyche. Cultural psychology has a strong focus on mankind’s group differences in thinking, self-perception and emotions, as well as interest in their unity.
Cultural psychology is often confused with cross-cultural psychology that seeks to use culture as a benchmark to test the universality of psychological processes. Cultural psychology, on the other hand, aims to see the connections between local cultural forms and psychological processes. Thus, cultural psychology is a separate branch of psychology with links to other branches, such as social psychology, developmental psychology and cognitive psychology. Based on a relativistic perspective, cultural psychology seeks to compare thought patterns, emotional expressions and behaviors within and across cultures. This goes from time to time across the universal perspectives that seek psychological truths that are assumed to be constant for all humanity.
Cultural psychology has long cues in psychology, but its significance has varied greatly. Both Wilhelm Wundt and Lev Vygotsky considered culture indispensable for a good understanding of the central aspects of human psychological functioning. Vygotsky presented views and arguments that all human higher psychological functions had to be cultural.
Cultural psychology has emphasized the need for expanded cultural research within the established fields of psychology, often due to repeated failure to replicate Western psychological laboratory findings in non-Western environments. Psychological data with great cultural variation contribute as a corrective to the assumed universal, established theories.
Cultural psychology research has focused on a number of issues and has documented significant cultural differences within, among others, these psychological areas:
- even Perception
- Cognitive processes and ability for logical reasoning
- Emotional expression and mood
- Meaning of emotions, including aggression
- Psychopathological conditions
Cultural psychology studies have shown how basic cognitive processes vary between members of different cultures. For example, studies have shown that US, Canadian and Western European subjects use different analytical strategies from Chinese and Korean when conducting problem solving. This leads to significant differences in the result and in the actual perception of what the problem consists of. These different cognitive processes lead to significant differences in behavior and understanding of the situation of the groups. In the same way, the fundamental attribution error seems to be more prominent in Western cultures than in non-Western, which is probably due to differences in cognitive processes.
Cultural psychology uses a variety of methods in its research. Parts of the studies that are central to the subject do not differ significantly from scientific studies based on observation, experiment, data analysis and so on, which are common in the rest of psychology. The use of laboratory experiments has proved fruitful in revealing a number of systematic psychological differences between members of different cultures.
Cultural psychologists have also made extensive use of more qualitatively constructed methods, typically inspired by social anthropological fieldwork and from studies of historical changes in psychological expressions. In addition, cultural psychology has attracted interest in discoveries from other areas of psychology and neuroscience. An example is neuro-imaging studies that help to strengthen the reliability of conclusions from cultural psychological research.
Key professionals in the field of cultural psychology are Lev Vygotsky, Richard Shweder, Steven J. Heine, Richard Nisbett and Hazel Rose Markus. In Norway, Arnulf Kolstad has been prominent.
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